April 23, 2010
By Evan Aczon, California Media Relations
When Cal student-athletes are on the field, they're doing whatever they can to win, exerting their bodies to the utmost extent. They are trained in such a way where they want to emerge victorious or not at all, and that's just the way it is.
Most of the time, these Golden Bears are competing against each other, Cal's best against the other team's best. But on May 1-2, Bears from every sport will refocus their competitive spirits while participating in a fight against an unseen opponent: cancer.
The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life is an annual event that gives communities a chance to celebrate both victims and survivors of cancer while also raising money for cancer research. Celebrating the 25th year of Relay for Life overall, and yet another year on the Cal campus, this year's relay already has over 900 registered participants, a huge increase over the 2006 total of "about 50 people."
Members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (Bear SAAC) are on the team against cancer, with gymnasts joining with track & field runners, and their efforts to give back to the community reflect their overall development as members of the Cal community, not just their respective athletic teams.
"I feel like it doesn't matter whether a person is a student-athlete or not because we are all working towards the same goals," says men's gymnast Jacob Jizrawi. "I really enjoy community service work because I believe everyone deserves love and support."
The event's rules stipulate that a member of each team must stay on the track for the entire 24 hours that the event runs. While team members are not on the field, they are free to spend time at Edwards Stadium and participate in other activities. Last year, there were live bands, a touch football game and an all-natural food spread.
While not as competitive as a track & field event or gymnastics meet, Relay for Life still offers an opportunity for student-athletes to promote a great cause, one that has touched many of them personally.
"In elementary and middle school, I actually had classmate who had overcome leukemia, which I find to be amazing now that I look back at it," Jizrawi said. "I have always been interested in getting involved in the efforts that go towards cancer fighting, and to know that all it takes is me getting out there on the track, I am all for it."
In fact, senior coxswain Jill Costello, a member of the women's rowing team, is in her own battle with cancer after being diagnosed in 2009. Her experience inspired an event on campus earlier this year that raised more than $37,000 for cancer research, and is a great inspiration to those taking part in Relay for Life this year.
Cancer doesn't discriminate against age, race or gender, and the participants reflect that same non-discriminating policy, ranging from young children to parents and grandparents, students and student-athletes. Cancer also doesn't sleep, and that's why the event is a 24-hour race, requiring constant attention in order to defeat the disease. At night, the track is lit with luminaria dedicated to survivors or victims of cancer, and the walk around the track is a surreal experience.
Because colleges are usually an ideal place to hold these types of events, it comes as no surprise that the Pac-10 as a conference has raised over $530,000 so far at 2010 runnings of the Relay for Life. This year's event at Cal has raised almost $30,000 already, with a week still to go until the actual event.
The Relay for Life now encompasses over 3.5 million people walking or running at 5,000 events around the United States. Contributions from events like Relay for Life have made the American Cancer Society the largest private funder of cancer research in the country.
If you are interested in participating or in donating to the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee team, denoted as Cal Athletes 4 Life on the team list, please visit relayforlife.org/ucberkeleyca and click on the team page. There's always time to donate, and any donations would be appreciated by the SAAC and the American Cancer Society.